To the editor,
“We’re not mad, we are just disappointed.” It’s a phrase most often reserved for tired parents upon finding their 16-year-old child show up 30 minutes late for curfew. Today, it’s a phrase that I’ll borrow to illustrate the love-hate relationship between Ohio State students, and the unpromising, but ever-so-important Counseling and Consultation Services.
Last month, all it took was a glance at The Lantern’s letter to the editor section or a refresh on your Facebook timeline to understand the vast surplus of divisive issues on Ohio State’s campus today — Rob Portman as Autumn Commencement speaker, “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement, the gender pay gap and meal plan price inflations are a few. In spite of all these, perhaps the biggest overlooked issue is the high incidence rate of mental illness and the adequacy of counseling services on college campuses, specifically Ohio State’s. The prominence and importance of this topic certainly wasn’t overlooked by me as I noticed a friend share The Lantern’s August article, “Drake: Ohio State counseling services on par with high demand; contradicts USG.”
In an August interview with The Lantern, Drake asserted that you can talk over the phone with a triage clinician within a day, and you can see someone for an appointment in a week or less. As a student who attempted to utilize CCS’ services twice, I can assure readers this blanket statement is unfortunately false by nature of its blatant overgeneralization. In February, USG rightfully claimed that the waiting period for students was sometimes up to six weeks. I read on and shook my head even more as Drake rhetorically stated, “Let’s call tomorrow and see how long it takes … It’s not six weeks.”
I read the article, and then I read it again, and just as I had previously felt with CCS’ handling of my problems, I felt disheartened and let down.
Mental health is a confusing topic. Unlike physical health in which a broken arm is treated with a cast and a torn ACL is treated with surgery, mental health treatment is not black-and-white. In fact, it looms very, very gray over its many victims. Mental health affects many people in different ways to many different levels, and here lie the shortcomings of Ohio State’s CCS.
I’ll illustrate my point by telling my story. In spring 2015, I was dealing with effects of anxiety that were manifested in physical symptoms. I’d feel chest pain and worry that I had a heart problem and then feel more chest pain as I convinced myself I was dying. I’d feel trapped in lecture halls and begin sweating and then getting the chills. I’d have a sudden urge to pee, despite having gone minutes before and drinking nothing in between. I’d feel dizzy and constantly lived in fear of fainting. I’d be at a bar and worry that I was going to faint on the spot. I’d go home. I sought help. First, a physician to check out my heart. I underwent an electrocardiogram, also known as a EKG, and it revealed no issues. It was all in my head.
I called CCS. Sure enough, I did receive a phone screening that day. But I’d never make it to CCS that year. The earliest I could get in was six weeks. This wait time could not work for someone who legitimately felt like they were dying and needed help immediately. I went home for spring break and saw a psychologist and a psychiatrist. I started taking medication that thankfully helped to alleviate physical symptoms.
Flash forward to January 2017, nearly two years later, my worrisome behavior changes struck my friends as warning signs of something deeper. I began to isolate myself. I went on walks alone at night. I deleted all my social-media accounts. My friends insisted that I call CCS.
Having previously been discouraged by the six-week wait, I had hoped that perhaps the service would have been improved in the time since I last sought out help. I had a phone screening that day, and knowing the results of the last phone screening, I tried to manipulate my answers to sound more urgent. I felt guilty, but at the same time I also felt previously neglected. My answers suggested I was more suicidal than maybe I was, but that’s not to say I wasn’t in need of urgent help. I did what I could to get an appointment.
I was seen by a triage clinician in less than a week, but more than two days. I can’t recall the exact timeline, but it felt too long. She had me retell my story. She empathized with my troubles and explained that CCS has many free workshops and group sessions I could attend. She also said that she was going to refer me to Holistic Consultation, an off-campus consulting service. She assured me she’d send over all the notes from our appointment to the next psychiatric professional.
At Holistic, I again spoke with a clinician upon my first appointment a week later. Once again, I had to retell my story — the notes must never have made it over. This was two weeks since I originally had reached out for help and I’ve yet to receive actual treatment other than the comfort of being in a room with a professional. After the tedious, emotional effort of retelling my anxieties to the clinician, she told me she’d refer me to the final stop on this journey — a graduate intern.
I met with her a week later and told my story again. We’d begin “actual” treatment the following week. These off-campus appointments would cost $35 each week for one hour. Ohio State, mind you, offers 10 free individual counseling sessions as part of the student activity fee. With the difficulty of actually scheduling 10 appointments within one semester because of wait times, you are in some ways losing money — but that’s a topic for another day.
Through perhaps little fault of CCS’ own, the system weeds out students who are not as urgent and puts you on a waiting list. You can phone screen in one day and you can triage within a week. But the adventure only begins there. The story you tell largely impacts where you go next, and for some this could mean Holistic, and others it could mean to a psychiatric hospital.
I shared my story using a tweet thread a few weeks ago to try to spread awareness and even comfort for any who may have felt the same disappointment in the system. The responses were astonishing. Nearly 50 students, past and present, replied or direct messaged me thanking me for my bravery and telling me of their own experiences.
Many shared their frustrations with their own six-week wait time. Some shared that they were deemed so suicidal that they couldn’t be helped by CCS and were perhaps best suited for a hospital. One woman even told me that there was a lack of people of color on the CCS staff, thus making some feel uncomfortable. Some felt let down by being assigned a graduate intern who later moved on, thus negating any long-term confidence or comradery with their counselor.
I knew the system had its flaws and shortcomings, but I never could have expected it to affect so many people. Do not get me wrong, there are undoubtedly many people who have positive experiences through CCS. However, no one should fall through the cracks simply due to a lack of funding, or perhaps a perceived lack of urgency in their case.
It goes back to my original assertion. Mental health is not black and white. Each case is incredibly unique and for each individual is personally important. The current structure at Ohio State rightfully prioritizes cases of high urgency. The problem is it seemingly neglects those of less urgency. It shouldn’t have to be a trade-off.
Let’s be clear, it’s possible — and perhaps likely — that Drake speaks only on knowledge passed up to him from people within the administration. I don’t imagine him to be a full expert on each and every facet of Ohio State’s services offerings. Let’s not necessarily bash him.
However, I’d expect a more thorough investigation into the services before making such boldly overgeneralized statements. If Drake called CCS today, he’d get a phone screening. Unless Drake is suicidal, he’s not getting an appointment for, let’s generously say, 3-6 weeks.
I think people need to understand that this issue is complex and a solution is not easy to come by.
We cannot demean CCS and Drake. We shouldn’t blame the great people that work and likely save many lives with their services there. Rather, I think we should take the time to understand the severity of mental illness and its legitimacy as a real issue. CCS operates relatively well within its limits of staff and resources.
Maybe in the future it can receive more funding. Maybe in the future we can have confidence. Maybe in the future we will have hope.
Brett Kaplan graduated from Ohio State in May, 2017